Second Inaugural Address of Woodrow Wilson
MONDAY, MARCH 5, 1917
My Fellow Citizens:
The four years which have elapsed since last I stood in this place have
been crowded with counsel and action of the most vital interest and consequence.
Perhaps no equal period in our history has been so fruitful of important
reforms in our economic and industrial life or so full of significant changes
in the spirit and purpose of our political action. We have sought very
thoughtfully to set our house in order, correct the grosser errors and
abuses of our industrial life, liberate and quicken the processes of our
national genius and energy, and lift our politics to a broader view of
the people's essential interests.
It is a record of singular variety and singular distinction. But I shall
not attempt to review it. It speaks for itself and will be of increasing
influence as the years go by. This is not the time for retrospect. It is
time rather to speak our thoughts and purposes concerning the present and
the immediate future.
Although we have centered counsel and action with such unusual concentration
and success upon the great problems of domestic legislation to which we
addressed ourselves four years ago, other matters have more and more forced
themselves upon our attention-- matters lying outside our own life as a
nation and over which we had no control, but which, despite our wish to
keep free of them, have drawn us more and more irresistibly into their
own current and influence.
It has been impossible to avoid them. They have affected the life of
the whole world. They have shaken men everywhere with a passion and an
apprehension they never knew before. It has been hard to preserve calm
counsel while the thought of our own people swayed this way and that under
their influence. We are a composite and cosmopolitan people. We are of
the blood of all the nations that are at war. The currents of our thoughts
as well as the currents of our trade run quick at all seasons back and
forth between us and them. The war inevitably set its mark from the first
alike upon our minds, our industries, our commerce, our politics and our
social action. To be indifferent to it, or independent of it, was out of
And yet all the while we have been conscious that we were not part of
it. In that consciousness, despite many divisions, we have drawn closer
together. We have been deeply wronged upon the seas, but we have not wished
to wrong or injure in return; have retained throughout the consciousness
of standing in some sort apart, intent upon an interest that transcended
the immediate issues of the war itself.
As some of the injuries done us have become intolerable we have still
been clear that we wished nothing for ourselves that we were not ready
to demand for all mankind--fair dealing, justice, the freedom to live and
to be at ease against organized wrong.
It is in this spirit and with this thought that we have grown more and
more aware, more and more certain that the part we wished to play was the
part of those who mean to vindicate and fortify peace. We have been obliged
to arm ourselves to make good our claim to a certain minimum of right and
of freedom of action. We stand firm in armed neutrality since it seems
that in no other way we can demonstrate what it is we insist upon and cannot
forget. We may even be drawn on, by circumstances, not by our own purpose
or desire, to a more active assertion of our rights as we see them and
a more immediate association with the great struggle itself. But nothing
will alter our thought or our purpose. They are too clear to be obscured.
They are too deeply rooted in the principles of our national life to be
altered. We desire neither conquest nor advantage. We wish nothing that
can be had only at the cost of another people. We always professed unselfish
purpose and we covet the opportunity to prove our professions are sincere.
There are many things still to be done at home, to clarify our own politics
and add new vitality to the industrial processes of our own life, and we
shall do them as time and opportunity serve, but we realize that the greatest
things that remain to be done must be done with the whole world for stage
and in cooperation with the wide and universal forces of mankind, and we
are making our spirits ready for those things.
We are provincials no longer. The tragic events of the thirty months
of vital turmoil through which we have just passed have made us citizens
of the world. There can be no turning back. Our own fortunes as a nation
are involved whether we would have it so or not.
And yet we are not the less Americans on that account. We shall be the
more American if we but remain true to the principles in which we have
been bred. They are not the principles of a province or of a single continent.
We have known and boasted all along that they were the principles of a
liberated mankind. These, therefore, are the things we shall stand for,
whether in war or in peace:
That all nations are equally interested in the peace of the world and
in the political stability of free peoples, and equally responsible for
their maintenance; that the essential principle of peace is the actual
equality of nations in all matters of right or privilege; that peace cannot
securely or justly rest upon an armed balance of power; that governments
derive all their just powers from the consent of the governed and that
no other powers should be supported by the common thought, purpose or power
of the family of nations; that the seas should be equally free and safe
for the use of all peoples, under rules set up by common agreement and
consent, and that, so far as practicable, they should be accessible to
all upon equal terms; that national armaments shall be limited to the necessities
of national order and domestic safety; that the community of interest and
of power upon which peace must henceforth depend imposes upon each nation
the duty of seeing to it that all influences proceeding from its own citizens
meant to encourage or assist revolution in other states should be sternly
and effectually suppressed and prevented.
I need not argue these principles to you, my fellow countrymen; they
are your own part and parcel of your own thinking and your own motives
in affairs. They spring up native amongst us. Upon this as a platform of
purpose and of action we can stand together. And it is imperative that
we should stand together. We are being forged into a new unity amidst the
fires that now blaze throughout the world. In their ardent heat we shall,
in God's Providence, let us hope, be purged of faction and division, purified
of the errant humors of party and of private interest, and shall stand
forth in the days to come with a new dignity of national pride and spirit.
Let each man see to it that the dedication is in his own heart, the high
purpose of the nation in his own mind, ruler of his own will and desire.
I stand here and have taken the high and solemn oath to which you have
been audience because the people of the United States have chosen me for
this august delegation of power and have by their gracious judgment named
me their leader in affairs.
I know now what the task means. I realize to the full the responsibility
which it involves. I pray God I may be given the wisdom and the prudence
to do my duty in the true spirit of this great people. I am their servant
and can succeed only as they sustain and guide me by their confidence and
their counsel. The thing I shall count upon, the thing without which neither
counsel nor action will avail, is the unity of America--an America united
in feeling, in purpose and in its vision of duty, of opportunity and of
We are to beware of all men who would turn the tasks and the necessities
of the nation to their own private profit or use them for the building
up of private power.
United alike in the conception of our duty and in the high resolve to
perform it in the face of all men, let us dedicate ourselves to the great
task to which we must now set our hand. For myself I beg your tolerance,
your countenance and your united aid.
The shadows that now lie dark upon our path will soon be dispelled,
and we shall walk with the light all about us if we be but true to ourselves--to
ourselves as we have wished to be known in the counsels of the world and
in the thought of all those who love liberty and justice and the right